We Make National News-Again
In all the media frenzy leading up to the November 3 general election it is easy to miss things happening under our own noses, but when a story about the Inland Northwest appears in the spotlight of national media I sit up and take notice. What have we become?
When a six minute segment entitled "Are Paramilitary Extremists Being Normalized? Look To Idaho For Answers" came on National Public Radio's (91.1FM) Weekend Edition last Saturday, October 17, I took notice. (Click the title to go to the NPR website and listen or read.)
The Weekend Edition segment is primarily a spinoff of the national media coverage of the right wing militia plot to kidnap the Democratic Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, but the Weekend Edition story also touches on the disinformation that threatens a rational response to the Covid pandemic:
At Bonner General Health, [in Sandpoint, ID] Dr. Morgan Morton recounts a patient she had the other day who wanted to wait until after November to schedule a needed procedure.
" 'I don't want to do a COVID test,' she said, and I said, 'What do you mean? Why would you choose after November?' I was totally oblivious," Morton said.
Morton, who is head of the medical staff at the small hospital, said the patient told her that after the election, all of this — the worldwide pandemic — is just going to go away.
"And I was just like ... mind blown," Morton says.
The segment goes on to discuss the heavily armed white men that turned out last June in Sandpoint and Coeur d'Alene to "protect the community" against the rumored imminent arrival of "antifa" terrorists. Rather than feeling protected, regular citizens and especially the unarmed folks carrying signs for Black Lives Matter, felt intimidated by these men dressed for war and accountable to no one. It felt like a threat, a dress rehearsal for a coming event:
For some longtime locals, there was this sense of "here we go again."
The recent arrests of militia members in Michigan are echoing loudly in Idaho, a state that has long been synonymous with violent right-wing extremism. But after the fallout from the 1992 anti-government standoff at Ruby Ridge cooled and a lawsuit broke up the infamous Aryan Nations, some longtime locals thought they had finally moved past the ugly past.
The sobering--and frightening--thing is that, unlike Richard Butler and his Aryan Nations that plagued the region from 1970 to 2000 the current "militia" movement has people both in public office and as candidates for public office in the Inland Northwest. Idaho State Rep Heather Scott on the Idaho side and Washington State Rep. Matt Shea and his acolytes in Legislative District 4 (Spokane Valley north to Mt. Spokane) on the other. LD4 Rep. McCaslin Jr. and candidate Rob Chase are examples, to name only a few. The ground is so fertile here that the name Ammon Bundy is not only a big draw but the man himself has moved to Emmett, Idaho, from Nevada to live among kindred spirits. (See more on Ammon below.)
As residents of the Inland Northwest it behooves us once again to wake up this movement, learn the names and the stories that tie them together. These people are armed, threatening, and worrisome. We need to pay attention.
Keep to the high ground,
A fascinating, disturbing--and essential--orientation to parts of this militia movement and the characters in it, including Matt Shea, Cliven and Ammon Bundy, and the Spokane Martin Luther King Day bomber(2011) can be had at Bundyville and Bundyville, The Remnant. Both were researched and written by Leah Sotille, a music reporter for Spokane's weekly paper, The Inlander, at the time the MLK Day bomb was planted. I greatly admire her work. I urge you to become acquainted.
Ammon Bundy, and his father Cliven, spring from Fundamentalist LDS stock who, for decades, grazed their cattle on public land while refusing to pay grazing fees. That is breaking the law, a fact that is often lost in the telling of the rest of the story. When federal law enforcement came to collect on the debt in 2014 the Bundys summoned a ragtag army militia groups and created the Bundy standoff that made the Bundys infamous to some and famous to others. Ammon went on to engineer the month long armed occupation the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge two years later. State Reps Matt Shea and Heather Scott were sympathetic visitors and possible co-conspirators in that outrage. Ammon Bundy inexplicably (to my mind) talked his way out of federal charges related to the Malheur occupation. Leah Sottile, writing in the Washington Post, described it this way:
When Ammon Bundy took the witness stand, he seized it like a pulpit, delivering 10 hours of testimony about his family, his Mormon views and his interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.
Ammon is apparently quite the orator, using his oratory and his infamy, to whip up controversy in his new home, the Inland Northwest. We would do well to remember that the Bundys and this movement started by intentionally breaking the law and order that binds the rest of us. What the Bundys and their followers are engaged in is armed rebellion, not First Amendment protest. The death of Lavoy Finicum was just a skirmish in a rebellion they hope in incite.